Word Alive Default Screen for Items N/A is Just Plain Irritating

Seen this item before?

You bet you have! It’s the default item that turns up when you’ve searched something at Word Alive and had a misspelled title, mistyped the ISBN, or are looking for an item they don’t carry.

And it’s absolutely irritating.

Talk about a completely squandered opportunity. If they simply had a rotation of a dozen different titles — updated fortnightly, which is something they would never do — it would introduce us to a host of titles for which we might otherwise not have awareness. Heck, I’d settle for them all being Whitaker House titles. (Word Alive, Anchor and Whitaker are all owned by the same family.) 

But it’s also a valuable lesson. 

Do we or our staff ever do the same thing? Do we ever look something up and tell the customer it’s not available and then that’s the end of the conversation? Or do we suggest something that might work based on the information in the inquiry.

I know that customers get stuck on particular types of merchandise and titles but a good sales person can turn a “no” into a sale. 

Although I’m not a fan, I have to respect the genius of Amazon’s “Other customers also bought” feature. In other words, “If you’re looking for that…” or “If you like that…” then “…you might like this.”

With a fragmented market, an increasing number of customers are going to be looking for things we can’t deliver, but we can confidently turn those inquiries into sales of products which have been vetted by major publishers and distributors.

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Shattering Sterotypes

Posted this to our store website yesterday. These videos are great, provided you know they’re available. And thankfully this one didn’t end with a link to Barnes and Noble or A-zon. Just wish I’d known about it 2 months ago.

If your idea of Christian fiction is Amish women baking pies or a little farm on the prairie, maybe you’ve never read books like this:

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Some Abbey Press Items a Shadow of their Former Selves

Some of you may have noticed over the past few weeks that since the acquisition by CA Gift, some familiar Abbey Press giftware items are showing up in a rather different form, and without a significant reduction in price, including many of your former bestsellers.

The “Believe” plaque (pictured above) was once an etched resin (I may not have the terminology entirely correct) three-dimensional item with different colours of paint applied.

Today it’s simply a one-dimensional photograph of the former plaque, lacquered and applied to a wooden background. The same is true for the popular Teen Creed plaque (pictured below in its original form).

Abbey Press was a hit in many of our Canadian stores. Much of its success here can be traced back to the continuing sales presentations by Norm Robertson when he worked for Augsburg-Fortress Canada. When the product line arrived at Parasource, it was never given the same attention. Today it competes against the myriad of products which make up the company. 

I just spoke to my store manager about this, and she reminded me that even their present form, both plaques are still viable gifts, the message and artwork are still strong, and customers won’t know how they existed prior.

But for insiders, it’s like finding out your favorite box of cereal or snacks has been downsized, and let’s face it, this is a profit grab by CA Gifts.



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Industry News and Notes

Here are some items from the last two weeks of Wednesday Connect, a weekly news roundup at our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud.

■ IVP has issued an anniversary edition of Philip Yancey’s Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, written with Dr. Paul Brand, now titled Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image. Enjoy a sample Yancey’s transcript of Dr. Brand’s thoughts. (For you publishing trivia nerds, yes the original was Zondervan, and yes, this one is IVP.)

■ If you haven’t heard, the U.S. tariffs against China proceed, Bibles and religious books are now exempt. (But all that kitschy giftware could get hit hard. No more Willow Tree for you?)

■ As a follow-up to the article we posted here, Sarah Bolme at Christian Book Marketing asks, How Many Christian Bookstores Remain? …

■ …Steve Laube also weighed in on the same subject, pointing to a new website that helps U.S. consumers locate existing stores

■ At the Movies: CBN reports that “Overcomer surpassed all expectations during its opening weekend with an impressive $8.2 million from just 1,723 screens across the country.

■ The woman who, in her own words, “was armed only with ‘a library card and a blog,’” Rachel Held Evans is honored at Christian Century, where she receives this comparison: “She is the most influential mainline theologian of her generation, the C. S. Lewis of her time. Ask any seminary admissions officer who their applicants—especially women applicants—have been reading, and you’ll see that the claim is not overstated.”

■ Reading the Bible from a screen: “…Furthermore, despite findings that digital Bibles result in increased Bible reading by many users, challenges to memory and comprehension ‘persisted even when the frequency of reading actually increased.’ As one survey participant reported, “I probably read the Bible more (more often) but possibly less deeply…” From Christianity Today.

■ This October InterVarsity Press (IVP) is re-issuing, in its Signature Collection series, two classic books: How to Give Away Your Faith by Paul Little and Basic Christianity by John Stott. See all the new IVP releases at this link. (Announcer: A long time ago, in a world before subtitles…)

Veggie Tales is back! “The iconic Christian children’s program, which has attracted millions of fans with its mix of Bible lessons, trademark silly songs and, yes, Monty Python-esque humor, is undergoing its latest revival this fall on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. The Christian broadcaster will air 18 new episodes of VeggieTales, beginning with a Christmas special that will debut in late fall.” TBN applied to “license the show from NBCUniversal, which now owns VeggieTales.”

■ …Buried in the above story, Veggie Tales co-creator Mike Nawrocki “started his own creative company­ — one of his projects is a new series of kids books called “The Dead Sea Squirrels”…

■ Music News ♫ Heard on radio stations everywhere, Jon Rivers, the host of 20 The Countdown Magazine is retiring after 35 years. On the short audio clip, he also announces his replacement.

■ A bookseller in Iran has been sentenced to 3 months plus a day for selling a Bible

■ Author John Mark Comer on ten things the world misses about reality.

■ Moody Radio cancelled an appearance by Vertical Worship on the MBI campus due to the worship ministry’s “financial ties” to James MacDonald.

■ New Music ♫ Leeland’s title song from the album Better Word.

■ Houston, we have a problem: Too many people are interpreting stories posted on the Christian satire site, The Babylon Bee as being real news.

Rob Bell’s ‘Introduction to Joy’ tour is now in the UK.

■ It’s fiction, but not Christian fiction; at least not overtly since it’s published by Simon and Schuster, not Zondervan or Bethany House. A mainline Protestant church is the subject of a new book, The Dearly Beloved. “First-time novelist Cara Wall tells the story of two ministers and their wives, who are called to a large Presbyterian church in New York City in the early 1960s and spend their lives ministering there. Each individual in the foursome gets equal treatment—their stories, their inner lives, their histories, and their perceptions of each other are handled like a cube that is slowly turned over in the reader’s hands. They become increasingly interconnected…” (Review may contain spoilers.)



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How Many Christian Bookstores Remain?

How Many Christian Bookstores Remain? (Click that title to read the article being discussed today.)

I asked this question on the Christian Retail Insights Facebook group awhile back and then yesterday, I found this on the site Marketing Christian Books (always linked in the sidebar here) and it seemed like a good article to recommend the day after posting about the article by Tim Challies.

Sarah Bolme writes,

…All told, the Christian book selling industry has lost well over 400 Christian bookstores in the last four years. This raises the question: Are Christian bookstores a dying breed?

She then notes two retail trends which should provide optimism, but the reality is less than desirable:

One exception to in-store shopping is purchasing books. Books are the only type of product that consumers shopped for more on third-party online marketplaces like Amazon than in-store. [emphasis added]

Her target audience is Christian writers in the U.S. She cites the CBA (US) Get It Local Today program and concludes on a more upbeat note,

The program recently reported that their database—the largest online directory of verified independent Christian retailers—features more than 1,800 stores… I find the news of 1,800+ Christian brick-and-mortar bookstores heartening. How about you?

Again, click this link to read the article in full. 

…When we were in Vancouver last month, I was struck by the number of independent bookstores. A person might have to spend a month there visiting them all. I remain convinced that the business is viable, but there are challenges.

Over the years I have often found myself quoting the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor 16:9, “…for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.



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Tim Challies on Amazon’s Control Over Christian Publishers

An article released Friday by Canada’s Tim Challies on the influence that Amazon now has on the Christian publishing market has been making the rounds, and I wanted to wait a few days before responding. You can find The Power Over Christian Publishing We’ve Given To Amazon by clicking this link.

He begins dramatically,

A few days from now, or maybe a few months, or even a year, Amazon will pull a book from its site. One day it will be there available for purchase with all the rest, and the next it will be gone. One day people will be able to order it and have it shipped to their homes, and the next day it will have ceased to exist, at least as far as Amazon is concerned. This will inevitably be a book that Christians have embraced as orthodox but that the culture has rejected as heretical…

We’ve seen some of this already, so it isn’t prophetic. He then sets the stage defining the challenge for the future:

…[W]e inadvertently handed Amazon a near-monopoly over the sale of Christian books. We did this with the good-faith assumption that they would continue to sell whatever we published. But times have changed and are changing and it seems increasingly unlikely that Amazon will continue to sell it all. It seems increasingly likely that they will cede to cultural pressure—pressure that exists both within and outside of the company—and begin to cull their offerings. And then what? It’s not like these books cannot be sold by the Christian retailers that remain. But will publishers even be willing or able to publish them if they cannot be sold at the world’s biggest marketplace? Will you and I even be able to find out about them if Amazon isn’t recommending them to us? And will we be willing to pay a premium to have them shipped to us from smaller retailers with higher prices and no ability to offer free shipping?…

In a way, this is nothing new. Spin the search engine wheel and you’ll find many articles from the past accusing Christian publishers of only selling things that will do well at Family Christian Stores or LifeWay. But now FCS is gone, and LifeWay is phasing out its physical presence in America’s cities and towns.

Why publish something which retail won’t carry? That’s been a challenge, but now that in many parts of North America there is no retail (in the traditional sense) indie-published books compete with those from the larger, established publishing houses. The online behemoth is in many respects now calling the shots. Brick and mortar retail stores don’t matter as they once did; we’ve lost our influence.

What is new is the people to whom that power has been ceded. While dealing with a different aspect of this, Tim Challies correctly notes that, “Amazon is hardly a company founded by Christians or run according to Christian principles. To the contrary, it is a company founded by worldly people and run according to worldly principles.”

And beyond the social issues Tim mentions, it bothers me that Amazon has no filters. A Jehovah’s Witness title, New Age title or an LDS title is just as likely to turn up in the search results as something from Baker, Zondervan or David C. Cook. Already, I’ve heard stories of people who unwittingly bought inappropriate books based on search engine results. This in and of itself highlights the value of Christian bookstore buyers and proprietors.

So what if those Christian publishers said to Amazon, “Since you now advertise as ‘the world’s largest bookstore,’ it would be nice if you would carry our titles exhaustively instead of selectively” or even dared to suggest that, “If you won’t carry everything, we won’t sell you anything at all.” If A-zon called their bluff on that, it would be devastating both to authors and consumers, since if a book’s A-zon listing doesn’t appear in search results, the book, for all intents and purposes, ceases to exist.

Again, to read the article at challies.com, click this link.


Gaither Gospel Increasingly Adding Secular Repertoire

Two of the most recent releases from the Gaither Gospel Series DVDs have left me scratching my head and wondering what my commitment is to carrying material that would be more expected in the secular market

The album Hits and Hymns by Patsy Cline contains songs such as Crazy and I Fall to Pieces.  Meanwhile, the new album by the Booth Brothers contains Daydream Believer and Take Me Home, Country Roads.

I’m sure the people at Gaither Gospel know their markets and I’m sure these albums are also peppered with some inspirational titles, but there are times I find myself asking why are we carrying these when we could be devoting the space to something more rooted in scriptural themes.

Of course I also recognize that we carry inspirational giftware where sometimes the message can be quite diluted. In the end it’s up to each store to decide where they want to put their inventory dollars

I just think perhaps our customers are expecting something better, something higher from us.

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Best Basic Christian Living Books Amplify Bible’s Message

August 15, 2019 1 comment

I didn’t realize I might want to mention this book here on the blog, or I might have taken some notes! The Beatitudes: Living in Sync with The Reign of God by pastor and theology professor Darrell W. Johnson was given to me by the staff of Regent College Publishing while we were in Vancouver.

Back home, I read the book’s 160 pages in just a single day. Eight beatitudes, ten chapters, total. Eloquently presented.

But now, ten days later, as I see the cover peering out among others on my coffee table, I can’t help but think that this is the best of what a Christian Living (the category in which Christian booksellers file the greatest number of titles) title should be all about.

I realize I say this occasionally, perhaps too often, but if someone was a recent convert and this was their first opportunity to read a Christian book, I would want it to be something like this; something which on a very accessible level says, ‘Okay, you’ve read the text before, you know it’s from The Sermon on the Mount, but now we’re going to look deeper and you’re going to see all manner of things you hadn’t considered.’

And then, in response, I would expect that young-in-faith reader to think, ‘If something like this can be produced out of just a single section of Matthew 5, then there must be thousands of layers of depth and insight that can be discovered in other Biblical texts.’

They would be right.

One fun thing about the book is Johnson’s dealing with the repeated word, blessed. He offers, “Right on” are the poor in spirit, or those that mourn, and frequently reverts to, “You lucky bums!” That took some getting adjusted to!

The book ends with ten sets of questions for group study.

As I said, had I known I was going to write this, I might have written some things down, but for now, suffice it to say that this is the type of book which got me interested in Christian books, in later distributing them, and selling them; and then much later writing about them online.

9781573835220 | $15.99 US from Ingram/Spring Arbor

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Devotions for Christian Writers

With three blogs, I receive a number of books unsolicited, but this one is probably one of the most unusual I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a book of short devotionals targeting a very specific market, but one which makes up many among our secondary readership here at Christian Book Shop Talk: Christian book and periodical writers and prospective writers.

As the Ink Flows: Devotions to Inspire Christian Writers and Speakers by Glenda Dekkema, Melony Teague, Carol Ford, Caludio Loopstra, and Marguerite Cummings (Judson Press) was actually published in 2016. The even numbered (left side) pages feature the familiar devotional format, with scripture, article and prayer. But on the odd numbered (right side) pages, there is a journal format consisting (usually) of a question for reflection and then a writing prompt on the subject of the devotional.

As the author bios indicate, each of the authors is a member of The Word Guild, “a growing community of more than 325 Canadian writers, editors, speakers, publishers, booksellers, librarians and other interested individuals who are Christian;” best known for their annual conference and annual awards. (Additionally, all of the endorsements for the book are from Canadian Christian leaders.)

The 90 devotional articles are divided into several sections:

  • The (Writer’s) Craft,
  • Inspiration
  • Knowing Yourself
  • Well-Being
  • Personalities
  • Faithfulness

As a retailer, I’m always looking for other applications for a product, but this one has a very particular focus. That said however, the devotions are refreshingly and creatively different, but what else would you expect from some of our best authors? As the editor of C201, a daily devotional blog, I’d like to see them tackle something similar but with greater mass market appeal. I know it would be well done.

If you know a writer, a copy of this along with the current version of the Christian Writer’s Market Guide would make a very helpful gift set.


Ontario Author’s Hope for Hearts Which Have Become Hardened

Carol McMurray wants to offer hope to a generation who have seen their children and grandchildren indoctrinated by the world system.  As a grandparent to three grandsons and three granddaughters she believes that “God can replace stony hearts with hearts that are soft and pliable, forgiving, loving and kind.”

Her first book, Melting a Heart of Stone just released from Word Alive Press. Full disclosure: Carol has been a customer of my store for 24 years now, and my wife and I got to work with her on editing some of the earliest editions of the manuscript. I knew the book was coming, but was thrilled to see the finished product.

Here’s the publisher information:

If a reporter were tasked with analyzing the state of Christianity today by attending a typical Sunday service, they would probably conclude that all is well. The music is upbeat and joyful, the sermon clear and concise—with the aid of PowerPoint slides and a touch of humour—and visitors are met with plenty of friendly handshakes and greetings. But based on the conversation among Christians in social settings or on the internet, we see a different picture emerging; one of growing frustration and anxiety, and even some bitterness entering into our increasingly negative conversations.

With this in mind, consider the following questions:

  1. Do our choices matter to God?
  2. Can our attitude affect our destiny?
  3. How do society’s attitudes compare with the days before the flood?
  4. Is it possible to melt hearts that have hardened like stone?

Melting a Heart of Stone provides a biblical examination of the phenomena of anger, bitterness, and hardness of heart throughout history, delving into its root cause, negative effects, and the only possible solution. God is seeking those who through humility and repentance are willing to exchange their heart of stone for a heart of flesh.

I would add that one of the book’s strengths is its dependence on scripture references. Carol shared with me yesterday that 42 Biblical books fit into the book’s annotations.

At 96-pages with a smaller trim size and smartly-priced at only $11.99 CDN, this is a format that seems to work well for several Word Alive projects (such as this one we covered last year, also from an author in our area.)

I encourage store managers and owners reading this to support this Canadian author.

ISBN: 9781486618729

How Do You Read Charts?

I suspect the tendency in reading charts is to check out who is taking the top spots, but another way to read is to see what new titles are breaking in. For example, in the August EPCA list we have these entries:

28 (NEW) CORE 52 MARK E. MOORE 9780525653257 WATERBROOK, an imprint of Penguin Random House

as well as some Amish fiction titles releasing at Summer reading prices ($7.99 U.S.).

Meanwhile, in a teaser for the list, Rush to Press notes that “The top 6 books in ECPA’s Top 50 bestsellers list for August are the same titles in the same order as the top 6 books in July. In fact, books by these authors account for 30 percent of the titles in the Top 50.”

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Starting a Bookstore

Last week I received an inquiry about starting a bookstore. That doesn’t happen often, especially in these challenging times. I couldn’t find the email this morning, so I thought I would post something here and hopefully refer the writer to it later in the day.

  1. Are you aware of the difficulties facing bookstore owners in 2019? It’s important to have your eyes open and keep your expectations realistic.
  2. Are you a reader? We still call them “bookstores” even though many days about 70% of the sales are giftware items.
  3. What is the Christian community like where you wish to begin? (Number of churches, types of churches, etc.)
  4. Do you have a location in mind and access to store fixtures that will work in that location? Trust me, you want to buy used store fixtures, or build them.
  5. Do you have another source of income, or are you expecting the store to provide an income for you? (The latter may not be realistic.)
  6. Is there some additional function the store could provide? In other words, could you be a Christian bookstore as well as providing another type of sales or services?
  7. Have you run a business before? Do you consider yourself a self-starter?
  8. Do you have, as a rock-bottom minimum, about $35,000 available for a start-up inventory of books, Bibles, greeting cards, giftware, jewelry, music, etc.?

The success of my store has been that our book inventory is 80% publisher overstock and remainders. This helps us look “full” without the same inventory investment and when they sell, these titles have a better margin. But they must — as with everything — be chosen very carefully. (We regularly sell wholesale packages to other dealers who want access to this merchandise, but don’t know how to choose.)

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